Dr. Percy Julian

I shook Percy Julian’s hand for the first and only time back in 1963 when he presented a summary of his research to the faculty at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Shortly after, he was invited to Morris Buske’s history class to describe the details of his work. 

In those days, Dr. Julian was extremely busy, working long hours in his Franklin Park research facility, keeping it in high production of sex hormones, vitamin D, Compound S and the continual updating of his research.

Joan Bowman, Percy’s secretary, worked long hours keeping records of his research, using three-ply typewriter carbon paper to make copies of it all. Arnie Hirsch, chief chemist recalled working late into the night making sure of the chemical research details before anyone left for vacation. Joan, trying to keep up with the conversations, became so exasperated that she reset the typewriter carriage so hard, it flew off the end of the typewriter off her desk and onto the floor. Percy retrieved it, set it back on the typewriter and they continued.

Joan contacted me through her friends and invited me to her apartment the day she moved into Mills Park Tower. Not able to speak, she stammered unsuccessfully. Then out of her mouth came in a singing voice, “But I can sing!” The singing message was to keep the legacy of Percy Julian alive. I was so surprised to hear any form of communication from Joan, so her request was impossible to turn down. 

With the enormous legacy of Dr. Julian, the insistent song from Joan Bowman and the support of Faith Julian, the Percy Julian Symposium was born. The present-day board of 19 members continues to honor Dr. Julian when the 15th Annual Percy Julian Symposium is held at OPRF High School on May 3, 2014, beginning at 9 a.m.

Science research produced by high school students will be presented and judged at the symposium. The first prize is $500 to support the continued work of science and engineering students.

What began as a Centennial Celebration of Percy’s Birth back in April of 1999 is now, 15 years later, a legacy of Dr. Julian’s, welcoming minority students who are needed in the field of science. A closer look at the NOVA production, Forgotten Genius, the Life of Dr. Julian, will reveal essential lessons vital for all high school students.

Percy’s 115th birthday was recognized last week (April 11) in the Google Doodle. Norb Teclaw is a retired OPRF science teacher and one of the organizers of the annual Julian Symposium.

Join the discussion on social media!